MANATEE -- Local churches Wednesday were gearing up for same-sex weddings in the New Year, even though questions remained about whether gay couples in all Florida counties would have the right to legally marry beginning Jan. 6.
U.S. Judge Robert L. Hinkle has given Florida officials named in a federal gay marriage case until Monday to respond to a motion filed by attorneys representing a Washington County clerk, clarifying whether she must marry one same-sex couple, or all same-sex couples who come to her office Jan. 6, the Miami Herald reported Wednesday.
Meanwhile, some long-time local couples were picking out wedding ensembles and ordering flowers.
Sandi Armstrong, 64, a licensed clinical social worker nearing retirement, and her partner, Rose Eagar, 63, a retired massage therapist, both of Sarasota, are planning their wedding for 2 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Manatee Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 322 15th St W., Bradenton.
They've been together almost 19 years.
"We'll drive to the closest county from here whose clerk does the right thing, and issues same-sex marriage licenses, and if that fails, we'll drive to Washington County," said Armstrong.
She wasn't sure whether she would be able to get a marriage license from the office of Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Rushing.
R.B. "Chips" Shore, clerk of the circuit court in Manatee, said Monday he would not issue marriage licenses to gay couples, since court permission to do so has only been given to Washington County, in north Florida.
"Without a marriage license, it's not legal, but it would be a spiritual ceremony," said Rev. Dee Graham, pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
"Spiritual is very important, and they really want to do something that recognizes their commitment to each other," she said.
Shore said that even as he would await legal clarification, local judges have the power to grant marriage licenses, too.
"We're hopeful a judge will step forward and do what the clerk is too afraid to do, because we all know same-sex marriage will be legal in Florida and in the U.S.," Graham said.
At least two other same-sex couples have scheduled wedding ceremonies at the Unitarian fellowship in the New Year, she said.
Three or four couples are planning ceremonies at the Church of the Trinity Metropolitan Community Church, 7225 Lockwood Ridge Road, according to senior pastor Rev. Charles Tigard.
One of those is a couple that has been together 26 years, Steve Warren and Dan Smith.
Warren, 72, is an actor and writer, and his fiance, Smith, 64, is a retired nurse. They are both from Manatee County.
"We're planning a small wedding, a couple of old friends will be visiting in mid-January," said Warren. "We thought they could be our best man; they were married in California sometime back."
He sighed when he said: "We've managed to stay together for 26 years, without anything legal except domestic partners' registrations."
"But (legal same-sex marriage) is going to happen in Florida, and these people who want to keep fighting it can keep fighting it," he said.
"We'll see what happens in the next couple of weeks; if we have to wait, we will," Warren said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.